The New York Times

October 1, 2006 ESSAY

Ten Days With Oblomov: A Journey in My Bed .

DAY 1: At 11 in the morning, while I am still savoring the last moments of a fruitful sleep, a messenger brings to my doorstep a new translation of “Oblomov,” the famous 19thcentury slacker novel by Ivan Goncharov, whose eponymous hero, a member of Russia’s lazy landed gentry, spends most of his time luxuriating in bed. “Looks like I came at the wrong time,” the courier says with a wink, mistaking my usual dishabille for interrupted coitus. I return to my bed and gaze unhappily at the thick tome in my hands. Right away I’m feeling sleepy. DAY 2: “I asked for mayo on the side,” I scream at the woman who takes my phone orders from the local diner. “I have cholesterol issues. You want me to die.” The half-eaten turkey sandwich rolls off the bed, leaving me with my trusty, sweet-smelling comforter and the very thick volume of “Oblomov,” the famous 19th-century Russian slacker novel

prop up my pillows in such a way . That reminds me. short-attention.. “Oblomov” consists of 443 pages of small type plus another xxiii pages taken up by the foreword and introduction. but oddly moving meditation (“This short and funny meditation oddly moved me. And then I will write the most insightful essay ever written on the subject — a short.m. Today the earth will shake! Today I will tackle “Oblomov. But not to worry. the light bulb in the bedroom needs to be changed. How in the name of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov did I get myself into this mess? DAY 3: Overslept.” the famous 19th-century Russian slacker novel written by Ivan Goncharov. The day I change the light bulb. Maybe tomorrow. Ivan Goncharov. and a monumental cup of black coffee. . The delivery boy brings a proper turkey sandwich. And read “Oblomov. I fluff up the comforter to support my gentle behind.” important people will say over breakfast) on Russian laziness that will somehow tie in with the Internetaddicted. but today might be the day.” the famous book by you-know-who. newly translated by Stephen Pearl and published by Bunim & Bannigan. One p. To the devil with this apartment! And now the light bulb in the hallway is out as well! DAY 4: I’m not making any promises to myself.. I sit up and cross myself several times. mayo on the side. I leaf through it while looking at the ceiling.

” The 1980’s pop legend has been nailed on drug charges and is being forced to collect garbage just a few blocks away from me on the Lower East Side..” DAY 5: What time is it? My laptop has been purring urgently.C.. As a young Russian immigrant.that they won’t leave a red imprint upon my neck. Let me do my community service. wire: “Boy George Reports for N. I learned a great deal of English by listening to his happy bisexual crooning (“Karma. “Go home. What’s this on my screen? Breaking news over the A.” I should crawl out of bed this very instant and lend my support to Mr. George. Trash Duty.P. DAY 6: I wake up in a state of agitation and throw on my dressing gown.” Tatyana Tolstaya writes in the book’s foreword. Only 400 pages to go! And when I finish . and open the book. karma. something that “lies in the seductive appeal of laziness and of good-natured idleness. If only all that damned “Oblomov”-reading hadn’t made me so sleepy. karma.. “You think you’re better than me?” the octogenarianlooking singer is shouting at members of the media. I grab “Oblomov” and start to feverishly highlight all the relevant passages. “There is something deeply Russian in the character of Oblomov. which seems to have gotten lost somewhere within the folds of my elephantine comforter. karma .” I would stutter along). There’s no time for coffee or the Internet. distracting me from that famous Russian slacker novel by Ivan Goncharov.Y.

” with “small pudgy hands.with this essay. “Take me as I am and love what is good in me!” he says. recumbent upon his divan. And I will clean the windows. “We are blessed to live in fascinating places in momentous times. DAY 7: I dream I am urgently rowing a boat to a house that appears to be drowning in the middle of the Gulf of Finland.” His equally indolent servant Zakhar is asleep on top of the stove. I will forswear the turkey sandwich from the diner. I will drive up to my little country home in a leased Prius and there I will raise serfs and radishes and real fresh turkeys to put between my rye bread. a faded mansion in the Russian rococo style. “Ilya Ilyich. I clamber up the waterlogged stairs.” Oblomov shrugs. Yes. but looks at me good-naturedly. You in 19th-century . “We must get out of this house before we drown. which are as dirty as my soul. good sir!” I say. “Don’t you see. “flabby beyond his years. I will learn how to drive. The water is gaining the stairs and soon we will be done for. He looks just as the book has described him. snoring rhythmically. per the book. My whole being is on fire! I sit up in bed and start to breathe heavily. I find Oblomov. I will buy a house in the countryside upstate like I’ve always wanted. and on the top floor. Then I fall asleep.” I say to Oblomov. and soft shoulders. I will screw in new light bulbs.

and all the rest of us soft-spoken. and D. and we can form a little investigatory posse. Scattered about us are torn underwear.” Oblomov says.. who does something or other media-related. who occasionally contributes to S— Magazine. liberal-college-educated youngish people lying in our queen-size beds.. spent light bulbs. half-eaten turkey sandwiches.” “I hardly ever read. and R. and I in early-21st-century New York.. these books? . . Petersburg. in my day William Bennett and Condoleezza Rice. ironic “vacuum tube” radios from the 1950’s. In your day there are great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. the glow of our allforgiving laptops lighting up our disheveled bedrooms. the stubs of plane tickets issued three years ago. and books. Where do they all come from. “What is there for me to be curious about? You know why they write that stuff — it’s just for selfgratification. less than 200 yards away from me. and T.” DAY 8: According to the Internet. or D. We should bestir from our beds and take heed of what surrounds us. I picture A. Boy George is collecting trash under the Williamsburg Bridge. Perhaps I should telephone A.St. much as he does on Page 19 of Goncharov’s novel.. Not the books that used to sustain us when we first fell in love with words but piles of freshly minted ones that demand to be read and loved and blurbed and reviewed.

like Tatyana Tolstaya. Oblomov has lost the love of his life. Olga. Some.Why do so many people need to jot down their imaginings in bursts of sophisticated English? Why all these new translations of long-forgotten texts? Why can’t I finish this essay. He has died in his own bed of a stroke. The diner completely screwed up the order. to his best friend.” he tells her — the state of being Oblomov. the industrious half-German Stoltz. The turkey sandwich turned out to be ham. put on some real clothes and walk out into the summer sunlight where Boy George and the rest of our civilization await me? DAY 9: Maybe if I clean the windows there will be a great deal of natural light and I won’t have to bother with the light bulbs. believe Oblomov’s immobility is rooted in the influence of Eastern philosophy upon Russia and proclaims him “one of nature’s . Rapscallions have taken advantage of his good nature and robbed him of his last kopeck. The real estate broker had told me the windows in my building “pop right out for easy maintenance” but what if they “pop right out” and kill a passing pedestrian? I fall into a deep melancholic trance. DAY 10: “What is it that’s doomed you?” Olga asks her beloved Oblomov before she leaves him for good. The mayo is hardly on the side. a term that in Russia may as well connote the state of the entire country. “Oblomovshchina.

praise God!” Gary Shteyngart’s most recent novel is “Absurdistan. The alarm clock glows deep red in the dark. or at a quiet. My analyst claims his passivity is most likely rooted in depression. Who knows? One thing is certain. utterly thought-free childhood spent at a Russian country estate. All this thinking takes up precious time.” . indolent.Buddhists. that’s another day over. and the late summer sun is no longer trying to break into my bedroom and grab me by the collar.” Others point the finger at Oblomov’s overprotective mother. Midnight. As the members of Oblomov’s household would say: “Well.